Improv Quote of the Day: Medieval Music and Notation

The pitches found in a medieval manuscript were never intended as indications which would lead to a piece’s definitive performance, such as we normally use notation as a basis for performance today. In the Middle Ages, performers did not generally use notation, and therefore did not conceive of music in such terms. Thus, one could speak of our manuscript sources – admittedly the main evidence we have to go by – as mere skeletons, very much in need of conceptual fleshing out and understanding, and not as a reality.

–Barbara Thornton


Byrne Quote #2


 (Photo credit: trp0)

p. 290 (Ch. 9 – Amateurs): In his book Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, Mark Katz explains that prior to 1900, the aim of music education “was to teach students how to make make music.” The advent of the record player and recorded music in the early 20th century changed all that.

p. 291 In the modern age, though, people have come to feel that art and music are the product of individual effort rather than something that emerges from a community. … We often think that we can, and even must, rely on blessed individuals to lead us to some new place, to grace us with their insight and creation – and naturally that person is never us.

…The rise of commercially made recordings accelerated a huge shift in attitudes. Their promulgation meant that the more cosmopolitan music of folks who lived in the big cities (the music of professionals), and even the professional musicians in far-off countries could now be heard everywhere. Amateurs and local music makers music have been somewhere intimidated.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Beethoven Rolls Over: Improv Duel

Ludwig van Beethoven

I still remember how one day Gelinek told my father that he was invited to a party that evening where he was to oppose a foreign virtuoso in a pianistic duel.

“I’ll fix him,” Gelinek added.

Next day my father asked Gelinek about the outcome of the battle.

Gelinek looked quite crestfallen and said: “Yesterday was a day I’ll remember! That young fellow must be in league with the devil. I’ve never heard anybody play like that! I gave him a theme to improvise on, and I assure you I’ve never even heard Mozart improvise so admirably.”

“Then he played some of his own compositions, which are marvelous – really wonderful – and he manages difficulties and effects at the keyboard that we never even dreamed of.”

“I say, what’s his name?” asked my father with some astonishment.

“He is a small, ugly, swarthy young fellow, and seems to have a willful disposition,” answered Gelinek.

“Prince Lichnowsky brought him to Vienna from Germany to let him study composition with Haydn, Albrechtsberger, and Salieri, and his name is Beethoven.

–Carl Czerny


Enhanced by Zemanta

Improv Quote of the Day: Renaissance Improv


The modern performer of early repertory is challenged to make it meaningful to audiences who are in many ways removed from the language and culture of the original. Who would notice the bravura of a dancer who substitutes, unannounced, the doppio portogallese for a regular double step? What face would raise itself out of its program should a singer spontaneously change the words of a song in a foreign language? Would an improvised rendition of a basse dance be more successful than an existing setting by a Renaissance master? Such sprezzatura on the part of a dancer or musician would have to be recognized by the onlookers to be appreciated.

But improvisation employed as a means to enhance the expressive qualities of the music, the dance, the art, will surely have a noticeable affect; what better way is there of making a piece one’s own? Improvising performers don’t extemporize because they are bored, but because they can. It is what they do. It is part of their personal expression as performers, just as it must have been in the Renaissance.

Continue reading


In the Beginning Was… the Beat!

English: Entrance to Clutter's Cave A man-made...

Did I ever tell you about how I imagine this business of making music got started?

I imagine it was fifty, sixty thousand years ago in a cave. The clan had brought down a mastodon or some other example of charismatic megafauna.

Bellies were full, finally, after months of low-everything diet. But excitement was still high. Oog, the lead spear chucker could stand it no more. He got up in front of the group in the flickering flames of the fires and started swaying back and forth. He was not particularly known for his articulatiosity, but he was so jazzed that he started adding sound to the motion, kind of a guttural uh-uh-uh-uh. Suddenly, words burst forth, which was pretty amazing, since words were a brand new invention, adding (but not replacing) depth to gestures.

“Killed the mastodon! Uh! Killed the mastodon! Uh!”

“Took my spear and ran him through, I killed the mastodon!”

Continue reading


Quote: Improvisation in History


Felix Mendelssohn


Domenico Scarlatti

Franz Schubert

Johannes Brahms

Georg Friedrich Händel

Ludwig van Beethoven

Although Beethoven’s supreme art of improvising on the piano represents a peak in the history of solo extempore playing that was probably never surpassed, or even reached again, the old tradition was still carried on after him by some composer-virtuosos, by church organists, and sometimes by concert artists. From the 14th century almost to the present, stretches the long series of great improvisers on the organ, on the harpsichord, on the piano – from the blind Landini and Paumann, also blind, through Hofhaimer, Frescobaldi, Domenico Scarlatti, Bach, and Handel, through Mozart and Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and many others to Cesar Franck, Brahms, and Bruckner. Finally some interesting exceptional phenomena should be mentioned, like the four-handed extemporizing on two pianos of by Mozart and Clementi, by Beethoven and Joseph Wölfl, by Mendelssohn and Moscheles, by Chopin and Liszt… These were the final relics of the old ensemble improvisation in the art music of the West.


–Ernest Thomas Ferand, Improvisation in Nine Centuries of Western Music

Enhanced by Zemanta